The Great Race for Talent

The Great Race for talent is on again. The race has been announced by a falling unemployment rate for college graduates, which is down from 3.1% in January of 2004 to 2.4% in January of this year. It has also been announced by an increase in cost per hire, which, despite better use of technology and the use of fewer and less expensive contractors, has crept up every year since 2001, according to Finally, it has also been announced by the constantly repeated theme at recruiting conferences about how few good candidates are applying. The pipeline of entry-level candidates is also of great concern. These young people have been poorly prepared for the modern workplace and lack many core skills. A recent report issued by ACT, called “Crisis at the Core,” underlines how poorly we have educated our youth. On February 10th, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin, speaking to several hundred business analysts from Google’s headquarters said, “Can we hire the quality and quantity of people we want to? No. We’re underinvesting in our business because of the limitations of hiring.” Bob Nardelli, CEO of The Home Depot, recently said, “We will be fighting for labor in the next five or six years. I think that anybody who doesn’t realize that there is a war on for attracting labor is going to come up short.” That is why Home Depot has launched some very innovative and aggressive campaigns to hire and retrain older workers and has an exciting program to attract Hispanics. Despite all of this, I find a great complacency about all of these signs among hiring managers, executives, and even recruiters. Recruiters don’t see the shortage for three reasons:

  1. They are swamped with resumes, which obscures the fact that most of those resumes represent people who are not qualified for the job they applied for or any other job in their organization.
  2. Internal candidates are being promoted more rapidly, leaving a gap in their wake that is more easily filled externally.
  3. Competition is just beginning to ramp after the past four years of slow employment growth.

Leading-edge recruiting functions are already putting in place the techniques, processes, and technologies that will help them to be successful in this great race for talent. Outlined below are several things you should be doing right now to get ready. Open the Eyes of Your Management Team The most important battle you will fight is the one to defeat the complacency and corporate pride that prevents you from getting the support and resources you need. Executives, especially in growing organizations with good sales and profits, believe everyone wants to work for them. They suffer from excessive pride in their organization and assume everyone else feels the same. They have to realize that there are hundreds of good companies to work for. There at least 100 just in America, according to Business Week and Fortune magazines. These same executives need to see what the supply of candidates for their most important jobs looks like in the local and in the nationwide market. The best tool to use in developing a talent survey of a local area by zip code or other sorting schemes is Eliyon. This Boston-based firm offers a tool that allows you to build competitive intelligence and conduct talent surveys for a specific zip code or for a broader area. It can help you make convincing arguments and also provide you with valuable market data. Once management has an appreciation for the depth of the talent shortage, you can move on to getting them to help you answer these tough questions:

Article Continues Below
  • What makes this organization so special?
  • Why would anyone want to give up another job for the one you have?
  • What are you prepared to offer me to make a move?

Organizations of every type and reputation should be focused on crafting marketing messages and aligning their HR strategy to build their recruiting brand and answer those questions. Improve Your Recruiting Process Successful wars are fought by the best trained armies, deployed in the most efficient ways. While technology helps, it doesn’t necessarily mean success. Many wars have been won by armies that possessed little in the way of technology proficiency, but much in the way of efficient strategy and motivation. Make sure you have a recruiting process that is streamlined, flexible, and tuned to market realities. Your website should be powerful and modern. The entire process should go smoothly and quickly and strive to eliminate any constraints to getting the candidate on board. Most organizations have recruiting and HR policies that are reflective of the time when we had surplus talent and could put numerous hurdles in front of candidates and expect them to clear them without protest. A candidate today is looking for a clean and simple recruiting process, one that is fair, short, and quick to provide feedback and a decision very quickly. They will move to a competitor’s site or take a competitor’s offer unless you act efficiently. Does your process deliver that? Screen and Assess Better In order to reduce resume piles to manageable numbers and to clear the chaff from the wheat, so that you and management have a better view of the kinds of candidates that are applying, you need to put up an effective screening and assessment process. Today’s technology allows you to do this with your recruiting website very effectively. There are more than 80 companies that offer screening and assessment tools online. Get a copy of Dr. Charles Handler and Dr. Steve Hunt’s paper on how to use screening tools more effectively, and also explore the resources Handler’s website offers for understanding who these vendors are and what they offer. I believe that any firm that does not have a web-based screening and assessment strategy in place this year will start falling behind in the race. Widen Your Candidate Pool When there is a shortage of anything, whoever can capture the supply wins. It is essential that you widen your talent pool to reach almost everyone. World-class organizations have a K through post-retirement policy. This means that they try to start educating and influencing career choices as early as kindergarten, and continue to have talent-community-building, educational events that include the young, the elderly, and everyone in between. You need to have a college recruiting program that provides you entry-level talent, a good program for recruiting mid-level professionals for their current knowledge and skill, and the ability to tap the retired workforce for its stability and wisdom. Leverage Technology to the Max Finally, there’s technology. As I said above, it will not automatically let you win, but it will give you a great advantage. There are hundreds of exciting tools that I have written about in previous columns, and I will write about more in the coming weeks. There are several companies out there that are improving how we build talent communities and communicate better with potential candidates. Built into your overall technology strategy, these can provide a real competitive edge. For creating communities online, see the tools offered by, Jobster, and JobThread. Next week I will write more on emerging technologies.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


2 Comments on “The Great Race for Talent

  1. Kevin:

    Great message in that article. The question now is to see if senior management listens to your call to arms and arises from their collective fog.

    I am sure they will but probably not until it is too late. I call it ‘Just in time thinking.’


    Howard Adamsky

  2. This is a must-read for any organization. It was as if it was written specically for my employer. I couldn’t have expressed it better myself. I forwarded it to the entire management team.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *